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W-File: gh_icefisherman.html

Type: Ghost
Location: Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin

Source: The book Northern Frights by Dennis Boyer (published 1998) pages 32-34.


The Ice Fisherman

Dennis Boyer's Introduction

One of the pleasures of chasing ghost stories is the occasional good-natured ribbing one takes during searches for sites and sources. A total skeptic will give you a disdainful snort. A doubter will often just turn away. And the bubbly over-eager source sometimes has other motivations and needs that invite caution on the part of the story collector.

But when the story collector finds himself or herself the butt of wisecracks and giggling stage whispers, then it is virtually guaranteed that a ghost story will follow. It is almost as if some sources insist on distancing themselves from ghost lore by affecting a light-hearted stance. It may well be that it is also their way of testing aspiring folklorists to assess levels of pretense and academic constipation.

My zigzagging journey across northern Wisconsin had amounted to fairly serious business. Even the stories with humorous components were laden with cultural significance. By the time I pulled over at the Rhinelander Beer sign near Manitowish Waters on Highway 5 J , I was overdue for a ghost story told with a wink of the eye.

The tavern had a smoke-darkened knotty pine charactel: The faded signs of long-gone and unavailable brews hung on the walls like memorial plaques: WaIters of Eau Claire, Leidiger of Merrill, Farmers of Shawano, Mathie-Ruder of Wausau, Northern of Superior, and, of course, the original Rhinelander. The usual collection of dusty and moth-eaten trophy fish and deer loomed in dark corners. Blue pipe I smoke snaked its way the length of the bar. A lazy card game punctuated by grunts held sway at a bottle-laden table.

Altogether, a perfect place for storytelling and story listening. Alas, it's gone now.

It was not given the dignity of demolition or even abandonment. Instead it was rehabilitated. A ghoulish process that left it looking like a surgically assembled collection of disparate body parts and amenities calculated to fill the parking lot with Illinois license plates.

This story, therefore, also serves as a memorial to a once visited place where a now deceased "old duffer" told stories. Avery knew changes were coming and threatened to haunt the place with his laughter and wisecracks.

The Story From The Old Duffer

Ghost stories? You're chasing ghost stories when you could be chasing skirts? You rode a motorcycle without a helmet, right?

So what kind of ghost story guy are you? The Loch Ness Monster and aliens from Mars kind? Or the past lives and talking to your dead Egyptian princess cousin kind?

Well, funny you should ask. It just so happens I know a ghost story. Actually I've heard hundreds of ghost stories from the boozers and losers in here, but I've only ever heard one that I give the benefit of the doubt to. The rest come from eating raw onions at night or from Wild Turkey with Leinenkugel chasers.

I give this one the benefit of the doubt because it was told to me by the cleanest living man in these parts. He didn't drink or smoke and he had low cholesterol. I'd be a total believer if it weren't for the fact that he had bad eyes. He thought his wife - my sister - was beautiful. He thought Hurley was a nice town.

So there you have it. Even a good man has flaws that color his judgment. But he swore by this story. And he was a sincere man. A good church man. Decent father and grandfather. Never cheated so much as a paper boy.

Now this wasn't one of your rooted ghosts. Not stuck in one place like the alleged wailing up on Papoose Creek or rumor of the headless guy down in Powell Marsh. No, the ice fisherman ghost has quite a range. My brother-in-law saw the darn thing on Circle Lily Lake, Dead Pike Lake, Birch Lake, and Big Crooked Lake. Probably some others I forgot.

Now I'm a muskie fisherman myself. I've fished them with live squirrels on wooden shingles for bait. Had to shoot some with thirty-eight caliber revolvers just to get them in the boat. So a ghost icefishing doesn't impress me a whole lot.

I never liked icefishing much. A time or two with the grandkids each winter does it for me. I mean just standing out there in the cold. The Good Lord never intended it. He gave us a brain, right? The way I look at it, these chronic ice fishermen all deserve to come back as ghosts on the ice. Let them all have icicles hanging off their buttocks. Then, for them, hell will have frozen over.

But back to my brother-in-law's ghost story. It had to be one of those died-in-the-wool ice fishermen. The ones whose wives run off with vacuum cleaner salesmen and whose kids can't recognize them.

He's said to be out there all the time from the first solid freeze to when the ice gets mushy. So four or five months a year is common. What's unusual about him is the amount of times he's seen in the day. Often in swirling snow. Sometimes in little snow whirlwinds. Almost white-out conditions.

Of course he's seen in the moonlight and starlight too. He's there and then he's not there. This, I'm told, is the way ghost fishermen operate. They're usually visible only for a short time.

But ghost fishermen are a dime a dozen up here. Only we've got a ghost ice fisherman. With the other ghost fishermen there's usually more of a story. A name, some history, and sometimes an incident like a drowning. Sometimes even a good physical description.

But with the ice fisherman ghost there's nothing like that. No background. Just the ghost in his hooded parka. This simplicity makes me partial to the story. I feel like I can trust that it's not loaded down with things people thought of later.

If you're really on this ghost mission you'll find lots of these outdoorsmen ghosts. Learn to sniff them out. There's always an old guy telling the story, right? But he's usually telling the story about how another old guy told him the story. And the other old guy is always toothless, or missing fingers, or has some deformity.

Watch out for those guys. It's one thing to tell a story that maybe didn't happen and then again maybe it did. It's different for some of these guys. They like to manipulate people. Send them off on missions.

I say don't fool with those old guys. Forget the hints of secrecy and hidden meanings. Find some laughter and a simple message. Like with our ice fisherman ghost. My brother-in-Iaw found him to be a good indicator of where the fish were. Better than a new fishfinder.

It worked for my brother-in-Iaw. He caught lots of fish. And it kept his marriage happy. That's right. He didn't go everyday, all day and then come home without fish. Women distrust that. Heck, he came home early and cleaned the fish too. A stand-up guy!

So stick to the bars where you know you're getting part story and part fully digested cattle food. Stay away from those lonely boat landings at night. But you won't listen, will you?

This tavern will be gone soon. Heck, most of us customers will be gone soon, too. Do me a favor, okey? Come back in a few years and see if it's haunted. If I have my way, the ice fisherman will be here with me and we'll both be haunting those Illinois yuppies in their tight bicycle pants.

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